eLearning Technology Blog

Walk a Mile with Their Mouse: Your Student’s Perspective

by Susan 29. February 2012 13:48

Not long ago I had the opportunity to participate in an online course offered by Penn State University’s World Campus. This course was aimed at instructor’s teaching online for the first time and covered basic principles and best practices for online instruction.

As an eLearning Consultant for WSU Online, part of my job is to guide and educate our faculty and instructors, especially those new to teaching online, about these exact issues, so I was excited to see what Penn State put together.

Right away I noticed something quite unexpected. I found myself carefully reading the instructions in order to make sure that I did only the absolute minimum work required to fulfill the assignment. This was a shocking realization! Here I was, doing the course as part of my normal work day (not after coming home from a hard day’s work, feeding the kids, and walking the dog), for free (I had not paid thousands of dollars in tuition), with no expectation whatsoever for a grade or performance assessment. It couldn’t have been any less stressful. And yet, even under these seemingly ideal conditions, I found myself avoiding any hint of doing things that weren’t necessary.

This experience opened my eyes. Our typical WSU Online students work full time and have all the usual family obligations. They are busy, dedicated, motivated learners. But I knew that, even though I had no pressure to perform, that this brief experience as an online student was probably not that different than theirs. The luxury of reading extra posts or delving a little deeper into the material is unrealistic.

I’ve shared my experience with colleagues as well as a number of instructor’s I work with. Now I encourage instructors to only include activities and assignments that directly contribute to fulfillment of the desired learning outcomes. Although research affirms the importance of building community and collaboration (both of which are absolutely critical to promoting a successful online experience), I can’t help but wonder if discussions are somewhat overused, at risk of becoming “busy work”. When student exchange is the best way to evoke the intended learning outcome, then by all means use it. But what if a self reflection would be more valuable? Or perhaps investigating and researching some aspect of the topic? Most people, including our WSU Online students, appreciate and respond to variety. Consider other excellent tools available in the learning management system and use them judiciously. Be selective when designing activities. Think about what will best suit your material and objectives. And consider the assignment from your student’s perspective.


Using Technology to Stimulate Learning

by Susan 16. February 2012 11:01

On February 1, I – along with about 200 others – listened to a keynote address, “Creating intellectually stimulating environments in large classes,” presented by Dr. Diane O’Dowd, a neurobiologist from University of California-Irvine. Dr. O’Dowd shared strategies for teaching her high enrollment 100-level biology class.

Her teaching objective is to create an environment in which students and instructors can both achieve unexpected realizations. She urges movement away from a lecture format and encourages use of dialogue to create greater opportunity to explore topics or develop resolutions to problems. And the exchange is between students as well as between the instructor and students.

Dr. O’Dowd reminded us that people appreciate immediate feedback, so she recommends use of technology, including clickers, in the classroom. She also recognizes the power of seeing how things operate in the real world, not just hearing about it theoretically. So Dr. O’Dowd frequently includes demonstrations and hands-on activities to visually explain concepts and engage students. During our own audience-participation exercise, we got to experience first-hand how outcomes and results are influenced by subtle assumptions or the way information is presented.  She also supports learning objectives that go beyond the content, to include goals like learning to challenge assumptions, ask questions, and establish dialogue for problem solving.

Since most students are frustrated by not knowing what to focus on when tackling the textbook, Dr. O’Dowd reshaped course lessons to a learn-before-the-lecture (LBL) approach, providing a one-page worksheet, brief assignment, and short quiz to guide students through each lesson and help them focus on the most important content. And instead of supplying quiz answers, she has students interact online to discuss the quiz before their in-person session.

Although Dr. O’Dowd’s methods are designed for the face-to-face classroom, many of her suggestions are adaptable for fully online learning. Her primary assertions about the value of discussion, student interaction, working in small groups, and giving and receiving feedback are already well-established elements of a successful online learning environment. The LBL model is easily replicated online. And demonstrations and visual aids can be delivered through videos, graphics and pictures.

Dr. O’Dowd understands and embraces the power of technology as an educational resource. Whether a learning management system is used to supplement an in-person classroom or is the primary learning environment, technology offers significant benefits that support student success while simultaneously reducing the instructor’s workload. And this is even more important when managing a high enrollment course. Electronic drop boxes, online quizzes, an automated gradebook, discussion links, collaboration tools, online surveys and polls, study aids; these provide valuable resources to students.

If you’d like to learn more about using the learning management system or incorporating strategies for a high enrollment course, check out currently available training sessions. Just scroll down to read the course description and find the right session for you!

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